To grow together as a community of Lutheran churches requires an understanding of what constitutes this community in its diversity and unity. The LWF has therefore opted for a study process spanning several years, with the goal of better understanding Lutheran identity or identities in a global context.
As a guiding theme for the study process, the doctrine of the “Holy Spirit” was chosen. This choice was made in light of the dynamic charismatic elements that many Lutheran churches both practice and face. Above all, however, this theme seemed to be particularly suitable for making theory and practice, theology and liturgy, church and faith, community and individual alike come into focus in the study process.
The prelude to this process took place in Ethiopia. More than 70 participants, including LWF youth with their impressive presence, were invited to a conference in Addis Ababa from 23 to 27 October 2019. In accordance with the objective, there were units that served the purpose of deep theological reflection, as well as units that made it easier to get to know the different Lutheran churches and traditions.
The three main lectures held each morning, which were followed by intensive panel discussions, addressed different aspects of the Holy Spirit. Rev. Dr. Kenneth Mtata, Secretary General of the Council of Churches in Zimbabwe, described the Holy Spirit as a promise and gift based on the life and theological work of the South African Bishop Manas Buthelezi. Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth, who was invited to represent the Institute, shed light on the ecclesial dimension of the work of the Holy Spirit with reference to Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Finally, Prof. Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen from Fuller Theological Seminary in California addressed the work of the Holy Spirit in the public forum and possible criteria for discerning the spirits.
In the afternoon, shorter lectures on different aspects of global Lutheran identity were held and actively discussed in different working groups. The most important aspects that came up in the working groups were subsequently presented to the plenary. This approach not only allowed participants to gain a vivid impression of the richness of Lutheran churches, but also crystallized those questions that will provide the basis for the planned survey of member churches on the theme.
The conference, mainly organized by Rev. Dr. Chad Rimmer, Study Secretary for Theology and Practice of the LWF, not only provided a diverse intellectual exploration of the topic, but also gave the necessary space for “We believe in the Holy Spirit” in common prayers and worship services as well as personal exchange on spiritual experiences. This contributed to the success of the conference, as did the extraordinary hospitality of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, which was shown through the constant attendance at the conference by President Rev. Yonas Dibisa, as well as the always helpful on-site organizing team and the impressive musical performances. The visit to worship services in various local communities was certainly one of the highlights of the conference.
According to the LWF’s self-understanding that “To be Lutheran is to be ecumenical,” ecumenical guests were invited to the conference who were present at all times and brought greetings and contributions to the discussion. The discussions were thereby enriched not only in content, but the ecumenical guests also served as a guarantee that thinking about Lutheran identity ought not be sought primarily through differentiation from other denominations.
The entire conference was accompanied and documented by the LWF Communications Department headed by Rev. Árni Svanur Daniélsson. The result is exquisite articles, pictures, and videos that can be accessed through the following links: